10 July 2016

a man fallen among thieves (partial reprise)

Today's Gospel reminded me of the following poem by e.e. cummings. He captures so very well, what being a good samaritan involves for us sometimes, and more, simply being a Christian for the least of the least amongst us.

a man who had fallen among thieves

a man who had fallen among thieves
lay by the roadside on his back
dressed in fifteenthrate ideas
wearing a round jeer for a hat

fate per a somewhat more than less
emancipated evening
had in return for consciousness
endowed him with a changeless grin

whereon a dozen staunch and leal
citizens did graze at pause
then fired by hypercivic zeal
sought newer pastures or because

swaddled with a frozen brook
of pinkest vomit out of eyes
which noticed nobody he looked
as if he did not care to rise

one hand did nothing on the vest
its wideflung friend clenched weakly dirt
while the mute trouserfly confessed
a button solemnly inert.

Brushing from whom the stiffened puke
i put him all into my arms
and staggered banged with terror through
a million billion trillion stars

ee cummings


One piece of today's Gospel struck me strongly this morning during Liturgy, namely, the fact that no one can answer the question we each might raise to Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" but we ourselves. The answer is not a given but instead a task and challenge Jesus leaves us with and empowers us to make true. The idea of neighbor is not a simple matter of physical address or ethnicity or naturally occurring commonality but instead an unfulfilled promise and apostolic commission associated with the coming of the Kingdom of God in fullness. What Jesus makes clear in today's gospel lection is the fact that we are each called to allow those who are aliens, those who are strangers (even if they live next door or in the same family) to become "neighbors". And more than allow, we are to make neighbors of those who are alien. This is the mission of every Christian.

As I wrote here a few years ago: [[ Yes, the Law allowed for intervening in life and death situations, but it also leaves a lot of room for casuistry: note the scholar of the Law's final question to Jesus: "who is my neighbor?" Jesus' own ethic leaves no room for such casuistry: the one who loves even the least as God loves has discovered who is the real neighbor, and has acted as one himself. There is nothing more important than this love, no piety which is more demanding. This is a love that law cannot legislate and is dependent upon a freedom law does not give or (sometimes) even allow. It is an extravagant love that calls for no compromises beyond the canny shrewdness of the Samaritan's generosity.]] The Samaritan makes of the injured man a neighbor in treating him as he does; in doing so he transforms reality. And so we are called to do! We are called to make neighbors of aliens and strangers, not because they are like us or live near us or even because they share the same creeds or codes or cult as we do, but instead because we love them as Christ does and as the Samaritan in today's gospel lection does so surprisingly and brilliantly.

"Who is my neighbor?" we ask, trying to wiggle out of the uncompromising truth and demand of God's commission to us.  "Whom have you made to be your neighbor?" Jesus might answer. "Whom have you loved in this way? Whose alienness have you transformed with a generous and attentive love? Whom have you made room for in your own life, your own heart, your own routine as the Samaritan did today? There is your neighbor and there too is the Kingdom of God among you."